Hallux rigidus is a disorder of the joint located at the base of the big toe – different than bunions and sesamoiditis. It causes pain and stiffness in the big toe, and with time it gets increasingly harder to bend the toe. Hallux rigidus is actually a form of degenerative arthritis where the cartilage within the joint slowly becomes worn out. Because hallux rigidus is a progressive condition, the toe’s motion decreases as time goes on. In its earlier stage, motion of the big toe is only somewhat limited – at this point it is called “hallux limitus”. As the problem advances, the toe’s range of motion gradually decreases until it potentially becomes stiff – called “hallux rigidus” or a “frozen joint”.
Common causes of hallux rigidus are faulty biomechanics and structural abnormalities of the foot that can lead to osteoarthritis in the big toe joint. For example, those with fallen arches or excessive pronation (rolling in) of the ankles are susceptible to developing hallux rigidus. In some people, hallux rigidus runs in the family and is a result of inheriting a foot type that is prone to developing this condition. In other cases, it is associated with overuse – especially among people engaged in activities or jobs that increase the stress on the big toe, such as workers who often have to stoop or squat. Hallux rigidus can also result from an injury – even from stubbing your toe. Or it may be caused by certain inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout. There are various conservative treatment options, and surgery is a last resort.